I’m staying in a dark Motel 6 in room 205 off Highway 111.The shades are drawn. It’s a dark and warm desert night. Someone is rolling their luggage on plastic wheels back and forth in front of the door as if they’re determining which room they should bury the fingertips of their dead. I hope not room 205. In places like this, bad things happen.
I’m applying bright turquoise eye shadow on my lids the color of striped mini-skirts I wore in 7th grade. Turquoise reminds me of Love’s Baby soft and Breck shampoo. I curled my hair and burned my ear those mornings in Mom’s pink bathroom waiting for “99 Luftballoons” to play on the radio again before school. Mom was a big believer in baths and I inherited her soaker gene. She filled glass vases with red and silver bath beads. She could build a robot out of erotic oil and bath salts clumped together in pink chalky balls. She morphed our DNA with her bubble bath, soaking and soaking while she assessed. The steam from that room was so epic I expected tendrils to slip through the crack under the door.
But this eye shadow would not sit on the shelf next to her incandescent body powder. This desert shadow was from Target down the road. I smear the lid with a cheap blue film. I know there’s a really good chance they won’t hire me but at least my eyes will sparkle nice.
I’m supposed to have a teaching job. I’m supposed to be happily married. I’m supposed to have a book. I’m supposed to have a full time gig. I’m supposed to be self-supporting. I’m supposed to have kids. I’m supposed to own something.
I’m supposed to know how to do this mainstream work thing. I don’t.
It’s been exactly one year since I’ve stripped. In that time, I’ve played a stripper in two movies and worked as a technical consultant for Jill Soloway’s dark comedic stripper film “Afternoon Delight,” but I have not danced for dough. I’ve not spread a man’s feet apart so I can squeeze in between them. I’ve not been on the pole.
I’m nervous. One look at my ID and they’ll turn me away. On tough girls, terror of rejection is dressed up like an over-smiling prom queen candidate, but never believe that. In my turquoise and pink spandex glory— I’m skinless. A part of me hopes this Motel 6 will be the end of the line but even the fart smells of our broccoli and hummus dinner on counter charms me. I focus on the task at hand: Eyelash glue.
$1.99 Sugar body spray also from Target.
My tax bill to the IRS=$337.00
Desert Showgirls is less than a mile away from our luxurious digs and like many places I’ve worked before, the parking lot is not full of cars—a bad sign.
We walk in the door like we’re really grateful to own the place and a cute blonde chick with rugged lines on her eyes puts her arms around my shoulders. “How old are you?” she asks. (I lie and tell her 40.)
“I’m forty-two,” she admits (three seconds from my age). I feel like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler when he knows better but does it anyway.
A big black guy younger than my nephew hands me a job application even though I just told him I worked here a year ago.
The blonde is taking her break with me. She looks older than forty-two but who am I to say.
“I made $250 on Thanksgiving just playing pool,” she crosses her arms. She must have kids and some dogs she rescued from the pound. I thought of all of the Thanksgivings, Valentine’s Days and Christmases I spent on the laps of strangers in clubs in San Francisco and that specific lonely ache of holiday sex work. Chasing the holiday spenders hoping for a big mint, but it never once was what I hoped for. It was always just a little more lonely than was reasonable.
And now. It’s Thanksgiving weekend and I’m dancing at a titty bar in the middle of the desert that attracts military guys from the base in 29 Palms and prehistoric golphers—completely in my element.
The black body builder dude did look at my ID and at me. Back at my ID. Back to me but he just shook his head and said I didn’t look my age at all.
The man returned my ID and took my filled out application while I watched the women dance on stage.
I have missed women’s bodies. How they uncoil and sashay on stage climbing the pole like savage hunters after blood in the ceiling. And customers are a place to mine stories, a place to fall into.
I sat with a woman who was so pretty like Heidi Klum. She had the word “Warrior” tattooed on her forearm so I got curious about it and waited for the story. Her boyfriend was short and charismatic with silver hair and had a gadget fixing business and he told me that I was exactly like him because I never give up and probably I had a bad childhood.
“I know you. You’re just like me,” he said. He sat very close to her and held her one free hand.
I wanted to tell him I’m not competitive, just hungry, but maybe that was his point. After all, I glanced at the strippers’ dances and made sure that I had more pen marked “X’s” than the other girls on the chart. The ones who had lots of “X’s” I studied hard for gesture and technique. Once we were are all little girls just doing our best, then things got ugly.
I didn’t want to hear about the man’s childhood or mine. I wanted to know about the “Warrior” on his Heidi Klum’s forearm. She got up to find the bathroom.
So when she was gone I asked him. The boyfriend swirled the gold liquid in his glass and leaned over so he was speaking directly into my ear and breathed jack and coke in my face. He told me a serial rapist guy who had killed 7 women abducted her when she was 19 and she was the only one who escaped. He told me that she had a daughter named August who didn’t know. I thought again about all of the little girls doing their best and things getting ugly like knives and projectile vomit and rape ugly.
She appeared again and sat down and crossed her Heidi Klum legs that were sweetly draped in a flow-y pant that looked more like a skirt. Maybe those things are called “skorts.” I wanted to hear the story from her, but I didn’t ask. She grinned the familiar sad girl grin and held her drink too tightly and I knew it was true. And when I danced for her I kissed her neck so softly that it’s possible she never even noticed she was kissed.
ANTONIA CRANE is the only person from Humboldt County who doesn’t smoke weed. She teaches creative writing to incarcerated teenagers in Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Salon, The Heroin Chronicles (edited by Jerry Stahl), The Rumpus, The Los Angeles Review, Black Clock, Slake, PANK, ZYZZYVA and other places. She wrote a memoir about the sex industry and her mother’s cancer called “SPENT” and hopes to find a home for it soon.
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